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Barn quilts’ long history inspires artist

Photos/Angela Reinhardt
One of Deb Moss’ barn quilts hung proudly in an antique tobacco basket. This is one of her favorite pieces. Moss creates several quilts a week in her home studio.

Pickens resident Deb Moss was inspired by barn quilts on a trip to Pennsylvania. Now, after just a year and a half at the craft, she’s made nearly 200 of the colorful, pastoral paintings with no signs of stopping.
“I saw them going through the country up there visiting my son and thought, ‘Oh wow. One of these days I’m going to do that,’” said Moss, who lights up while she talks about her work.
Barn quilts have a long history, dating back at least to the Civil War, Moss told me as she toured me around her home art studio.
“The wives would paint these and put them on barns waiting for their husbands to get back home, in remembrance of them,” she said. “But now they’re everywhere. Every state has barn quilt tours except for two – and I’m really hoping Pickens County is going to get in on this.”
For the uninitiated, a barn quilt is not made of fabric. It’s painted on large pieces of wood – usually square, but not always – then sealed so it can be hung outside in the elements (although it’s common now for people to display them in their homes or businesses). The patterns are what make them “quilts,” from the familiar starburst to pinwheels, to primitive stars and many others, including a chicken quilt design Moss has in the works. A popular design is the cardinal, “because the cardinal is in remembrance of your loved one.”

Moss tapes off a quirky chicken-themed barn quilt that will match a mailbox hanging she’s made in the same style. Creating the patterns takes precision with stenciling, taping, painting to get the design to pop.

“The hardest part is getting the design drawn out because they have to be perfect and symmetrical” Moss explained, showing me an outline of one project at her work station.
Typically, a client will tell her what pattern and colors they want, and sometimes people send photographs of family heirloom quilts they want to mimic in the barn quilt.
“Like this one I’m doing,” she said pointing to another work in progress. “It’s a quilt that belonged to her grandmother and I’m having to figure out how to recreate the pattern, but it’s coming along well.”
Moss cuts her own plywood for each piece in her barn (which is appropriately outfitted with its own barn quilt). She explains the entire process from start to finish, including framing on the back, taping, stenciling, painting and clear coating. She can create quilts up to 4’x4’ in the space she has.
When asked if she did other art before dipping her toes into the world of barn quilts, Moss pulled out a collection of rocks she hand paints and gives to friends and family. One had a little gnome on it; another a daisy and ladybug; another….a barn.

Another of Moss’ art endeavors is making hand painted rocks she gives to friends and family. 

“We have a seasonal camping spot in Blairsville and there are probably 150 camping spots and I have painted rocks for a person at every spot up there,” she said. “We’re like a big family. But I’ll paint them specific for each person and leave them on their steps.”
Moss still makes rocks and makes around four barn quilts a week, many of them custom orders that come through her Facebook page “Deb’s Creations Jasper,” and she still loves the process as much as the first time.
“I just love to see people’s faces light up when I give them their quilt or their rock,” she said. “They’ll cry or hug me. Every quilt I’ve sold they’ll post a picture of where they hung it. It makes you feel good.”

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